Life hacks: Everyone can (and should!) learn a little computer science

Most people think of computer science majors as the kind of people who roll out of bed at 2 p.m. (still hungover from last night’s Red Bull) — the kind of people who spend most of their time writing code for a Mars rover or hacking into government files.

The truth is, most computer science majors (myself included) aren’t interested in wild or illegal programming. I don’t know the first thing about operating rovers or hacking mainframes. Neither do most of the CS students I know. But I do know that, if we had to, we could figure out pretty much any technological problem.  

This is because Calvin teaches us how to “pick up” new programming languages and skill sets. We can’t learn every language or concept in the field right now — and it’s pointless to even try, considering the rapidly changing digital age. But if we can learn how to learn, we’ll be able to adapt and devise solutions even if we’re seeing a problem for the first time. 

“Okay, sweet,” you’re probably thinking. “CS majors are objectively the coolest people at Calvin. But why should I care? I, a history/economics/kinesiology major, will never need to solve a technological problem. And there’s no way programming will be necessary in my line of work.” 

But that is where — I hate to break it to you — you might be discounting some possibilities. Whether you’re a future teacher, nurse or lawyer, you’ll rely on websites and apps every single day. Furthermore, our capacity to store and analyze huge amounts of data is transforming fields, from sports coverage to finance to linguistics research. My first CS internship wasn’t in web development or app design. It was in predictive data modeling for a company’s marketing department. 

Technology is probably going to shape your future career, whether you like it or not. Why not understand the devices in your life at least a little — how they work, how they speak, what they do? 

Technology is probably going to shape your future career, whether you like it or not

This is where my earlier remarks on studying computer science come in. I am not saying you should go teach yourself how to build apps (although if that sounds fun, go for it!). You don’t have to master any part of programming. Instead, I encourage you to Google the basics: how websites work, how computers work or how to use a programming language. 

There’s never been a better time to learn about computers and coding. Free resources abound online: Wikipedia articles, YouTube videos, interactive tutorial pages and StackOverflow. Poke around and find a method that suits your learning style. Or, if you prefer a classroom setting, consider auditing a 100-level CS course. You’ll be able to ask your professor questions and learn from homework and lab assignments. 

No matter how you choose to learn, be sure to set goals that interest you. Maybe you’d like to use Python to count different curse words in a Megan Thee Stallion album. Or maybe you’d like to use R to graph University of Michigan and Michigan State’s football stats. I won’t lie — usually, programming frustrates before it rewards. But if you’re invested in your project, you’re less likely to quit in a fit of rage. 

In short: if you’re intimidated by computers, don’t be! With some savvy web searching, the world’s knowledge is your oyster. Check it out, and who knows? Maybe someday, you’ll be rolling out of bed at 2 p.m.